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Yedioth Ahronoth OpEd: "A Dignified Way Out" by Giora Eiland

A solution to the problem of the Kassam rocket fire from Gaza requires making three assumptions. Ignoring them or some of them will lead to erroneous decisions.

2/12/08

   A solution to the problem of the Kassam rocket fire from Gaza requires making three assumptions. Ignoring them or some of them will lead to erroneous decisions.

   First assumption: there is no direct response to the Kassam rocket fire and there is unlikely ever to be one. None of the Air Force strikes, successful as they may be, can stop the rocket fire (just as they did not stop the Katyusha rocket fire from Lebanon). There are only two ways to stop this fire, and both are indirect: either by taking over the territory or by getting those doing the firing not to want to fire.

   Second assumption: the time has passed in which it is possible to defeat another side unconditionally (like in World War II). Even when it seems that there is such an absolute victory, as it appeared to the Americans in Iraq in the spring of 2003, this is a mirage. It takes the enemy a short time to reorganize and to continue the war by other means. What is possible to achieve? A situation in which the enemy is forced to agree, de facto, to a situation that is better for us and less good for it.

   Third assumption: it is impossible to prevent arms smuggling from Egypt to Gaza as long as the border between them is based on Philadelphi Road, and it is immaterial who the force there is or what their motivation is. The reason is simple: Philadelphi Road is a paved road that bisects the city of Rafah into two parts-one in Egypt and one in Gaza. The residents on both sides are one family, and the distance between the houses on one side and those on the other side amounts to a few dozen meters. The ability to smuggle weapons will remain in place as long as this is the geography and the demography. 

   So what do we do ? First of all, what do we not do. We don't launch a campaign against Hamas with the declared goal being to bring about its fall from power. That simply can't happen. As long as this is the goal, there is no chance in the world that Hamas will agree to cooperate and to surrender, and therefore it will also not stop its Kassam rocket fire.

   The second thing we don't do is to declare that we will not make any arrangement with Hamas as long as it does not accept the Quartet's terms (forswear terror, recognize Israel and recognize previous agreements). That also won't happen, because that would be a sort of surrender-and will therefore not take place.

   What do we do? Military pressure, like civilian pressure, is effective as long as at the end, they give Hamas a dignified exit. Such an exit could a proposal by a third party (not American) that will bring the three sides (Israel, Hamas and Egypt) to an arrangement (de facto, not a diplomatic agreement).

   The arrangement would be comprised of four parts: a full cease-fire in Gaza and its environs; a prisoner exchange; Israel would again provide the normal quantities of fuel and electricity; Egypt would agree to establish in its territory a security zone west of Egyptian Rafah-a zone that only its establishment would make it possible to stop the smuggling to Gaza.

   It is difficult, in this small space, to provide a full analysis as to why such an arrangement maximizes the advantages for all the sides. I will add only that the chances of such a proposal being accepted by Hamas and Egypt depend, to a decisive degree, on the alternative to it. The only alternative to a Hamas/Egyptian refusal to an approach by a third party is a unilateral Israeli action that includes three things: an attack on government institutions,  police stations and infrastructure; an absolute halt to providing goods, electricity and fuel; removing Gaza from the Israeli customs envelope, thus creating a total separation between Gaza and the West Bank.

   Under these circumstances, we should not be alarmed by an international outcry about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. There are problems that can they be resolved only by creating a crisis, on condition that it be clear that there is a solution, and that Israel has even agreed to it. The effectiveness of this aggressive approach depends on Hamas, Egypt and the international community being aware that there is also another alternative-the arrangement mooted here.

   The solution to resolving complex problems depends on one side being able to manipulate the other to agree to something tolerable, which also allows it to maintain its dignity. It is not possible to bring the other side to an "unconditional surrender" and those who try to butt their head against the wall-break their head. A correct diplomatic step is not to gripe about the situation, but rather to instigate the creation of an international initiative that proposes an exit that is good for us and somewhat good for Hamas.